Red Blends: An Elegant Balance

Category: Drink

In addition to unique flavors, red blends offer a new way to see the world.

Aristotle’s famous proclamation, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” is especially true when it comes to wine. Even when a bottle holds a single grape variety, most juice is composed of a blend of fruit grown in different plots and or matured in different barrels. While it’s nearly impossible to taste the specific nuances that a mix brings to a bottle, combining unique grape varieties into a delicious, multi-flavored whole is a skill that makes the people who are great at it some of the most sought-after winemakers in the world. And with red wines, the job is especially intriguing.

While a red wine made from one grape can showcase its best qualities, blends take advantage of the unique flavors of different varieties to craft a consistent and full-flavored glassful. Ultimately, the aim of a blend is to balance flavor with acidity, tannins, alcohol level, and — on occasion—sweetness. 

Grapes used to make red wine have several important components: in addition to providing the beverage’s liquid base, the fruit’s pulpy part is filled with flavors, acidity (which gives wines that salivating, refreshing mouthfeel) and sugars (on which yeasts feed during fermentation to turn juice into wine). And unlike white wines, which are made from juice only, grape skins are crucial to red winemaking. Those skins, ranging from red to purple to black by type of fruit, offer not only additional flavors, but also color and tannins. Those tannins provide texture, noticeable as an astringent feel that ranges from smooth and silky to strong and grippy. 

Some wine regions are famous for their red blends. Bordeaux, in southeastern France, has made the deep pigment skinned Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot mix a classic one, the first grape contributing blackcurrant and herbaceous flavors, the second offering softness and fresh fruitiness. A winemaker can produce a quality wine there each year, regardless of weather-induced differences: a stemmy, green-tasting Cabernet Sauvignon, say, that failed to reach full ripeness, can be fleshed out by blending it with Merlot, which will mature with at least some soft fruitiness even in sub-par weather. Adding in a carefully considered amount of Cabernet Franc will provide softness and elegant floral qualities. The region’s other grapes can be called into play when necessary, too: Petit Verdot and Malbec, for example, give intense flavor and color, and deep plummy flavors and acidity, respectively.

In southern France’s Rhône Valley, the red blend commonly shorthanded as GSM, for Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre, is a classic mix of light, fruity, spicy, herbaceous, tannic and structured. Other well-known red blends are Italy’s Chianti (the Sangiovese grape is often blended with local varieties like Canaiolo and Colorino), and Spain’s Rioja (Tempranillo, generally mixed with locals like Garnacha and Mazuelo).

Winc is in on the advantages of blends, too, turning to new combinations not only of grapes, but of ideas as well, for bottles that are both approachable and provocative. A mingling of fruit, places, and creative genres: red blends can be a new way to think about the world as well. On the next pages are four bottles to try.

Winemaker Brian Smith partnered with laid-back and luxurious fashion label Baja East’s designers, who were after a quality combo from an unusual place. He picked Central California’s Lodi district as the right source for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot that make up the Winc x Baja East bottle in equal parts—the result is a smoky, peppery dark fruit mix with a chewy and refreshing structure. It’s as much a match for the acidic side of tomato-sauced dishes as it is for the richness of cream-based ones.

For another look at what Petit Verdot can do in a two-part party, there’s Winc’s Big Beat Red Blend, which includes Syrah. Here, Smith is after a fun, full-bodied bottle, and these two grapes work together in a flavorful wine with refreshing acidity. Notes of berries and rose jams with herbs and soft tannins make this bottle a delicious and dependable counterpart for pizza, burgers and grilled meats. 

Objet d’Art Red Blend is a GSM union without the Grenache. This wine is two-thirds Syrah and the rest Mourvèdre. Its deep, dark fruit and unusual cardamon spice aromas are Smith’s interpretation of the mystical collage art of Tim Robinson, which appears as the bottle’s label. Inside, you can find aromas of plums, licorice and dusty tannins with bright acidity which call to mind piled-high pastrami sandwiches or an earthy mushroom dish.

Finally, with a slight touch of sweetness, 2015 Rosa Obscura is an amalgam of Valdiguié, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, and the locales of California’s Paso Robles and Lodi. Ultimately, this marriage yields a wine that offers loads of spicy, baked fruit flavors, and warm notes of cedar and leather that are prime for pairing with baked pasta dishes, steak and dark chocolate.